Yash Pal Ralhan
In a world marked by remarkable technological advancements, economic growth, and dazzling innovations, it is a paradox that a profound crisis silently looms – the crisis of hunger and malnutrition. While we celebrate the strides humanity has made, it is crucial to recognize the stark reality that millions continue to grapple with hunger, their empty stomachs echoing a poignant reminder of our collective failure.
Consider India, a nation of over a billion dreams, where a staggering 800 million people depend on government rations for their daily sustenance. However, the recent reduction in allocation to the PM Poshan scheme in the national budget has sent an unsettling message – a message that hints at a lack of political concern for those who rely on this lifeline. This program, especially vital during the trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic, is anticipated to continue until June 2024, when a new government assumes office.
Yet, this issue transcends India’s borders, posing a global challenge that demands our immediate attention. The world is haunted by the staggering revelation made by the head of the United Nations-backed World Food Programme – a revelation that sends shockwaves through our collective conscience. As many as 828 million people — about 10% of the global population — regularly go to bed hungry.
This alarming figure is not a recent anomaly; in 2020, 811 million people grappled with hunger as the pandemic relentlessly pushed more individuals into the abyss of poverty and food insecurity. COVID-19 did not only expose the vulnerabilities in our global health systems but also laid bare the harsh realities of economic disparities. It slowed down economies and disrupted livelihoods, making the task of putting food on the table an increasingly arduous endeavor.
Furthermore, the global food security landscape was further imperiled by conflicts of immense proportions. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, a devastating geopolitical crisis, took a dire toll on global food production. Both Russia and Ukraine, major wheat producers responsible for a quarter of global wheat exports in 2019, found themselves embroiled in a brutal conflict. Moscow’s invasion and the subsequent blockading of Ukraine’s ports had catastrophic repercussions. Food grain prices soared worldwide, triggering an intensification of the crisis, particularly in vulnerable, impoverished nations.
Adding to this complex web of challenges is the specter of climate change, which has exacerbated the situation. Unpredictable weather patterns and extreme climatic events have disrupted agricultural systems and threatened food security on an unprecedented scale. Our planet’s changing climate is a silent accomplice in this global crisis, amplifying the suffering of those already on the brink.
In the midst of these formidable challenges, geopolitical cooperation and the prominence of international forums like BRICS and G20 have failed to quell the fires of conflict. The war in Ukraine rages on, defying resolution, and continues to cast a long, ominous shadow over global food security. It is a stark reminder that some issues, like the hunger crisis, remain immune to easy solutions.
In contrast, there are instances in history where international cooperation successfully addressed food shortages. Regional blocs like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States offer glimpses of hope. They have effectively reduced hunger within their respective regions, demonstrating the potential of collaborative efforts in achieving tangible results.
As we turn our gaze to India, we find a nation grappling with its own set of challenges. While government schemes have made significant strides in socio-economic development, the specter of hunger continues to loom large. Initiatives like the Ujwala scheme, the Open Defecation Free (ODF) initiative, Ayushman Bharat, and the provision of free housing have undoubtedly improved the lives of millions. These programs have provided shelter, sanitation, and healthcare, addressing immediate needs and laying the groundwork for long-term improvements.
However, the deep-seated issue of malnutrition, particularly among children, remains a formidable adversary. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data reveals a troubling increase in child stunting and wasting, directly impacting India’s hunger index ranking. Stunted growth, often a consequence of childhood malnutrition, not only robs individuals of their physical potential but also restricts their access to education and opportunities, ultimately hampering the nation’s progress.
The World Bank underlines the economic repercussions of childhood stunting, stating that “A 1 percent loss in adult height due to childhood stunting is associated with a 1.4 percent loss in economic activity.” This sobering fact underscores the inextricable link between food security and economic development.
To address India’s hunger crisis, a collective and coordinated effort is imperative. Government bodies, health institutions, academic organizations, and civil society must join hands to implement effective solutions. These solutions must not only cater to immediate food security but also align with the ambitious goal of eliminating hunger by 2030, in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
In a world teetering on the brink of a hunger crisis, cooperation is not merely an option; it is an imperative. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine, with its far-reaching consequences for global food security, serves as a poignant reminder that we must prioritize the resolution of conflicts that threaten the availability of food.
As we strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger, let us remember that hunger knows no borders or boundaries. It is a global crisis that requires a global response. Together, we can ensure that no one goes to bed hungry, regardless of their circumstances or where they call home.
Yash Pal Ralhan